Did Wilson get a buyout? Kulpmont won't confirm
KULPMONT - The borough won't say if it paid anything to former Police Chief Rick Wilson III when his retirement was accepted five months before his five-year contract expired.
Responding to a July 31 request from The News-Item, borough Right-to-Know officer Rhonda L. Wilk, also borough secretary, cited exceptions to the open records law in her Aug. 7 response.
"This request is being denied ... due to this material being composed from an executive session that involved litigation and personnel matters," her letter says.
Mayor Myron Turlis had said on July 25, "Everyone worked together to reach the amicable split between the two parties, and everything was done with the best interest of the taxpayers in mind."
Wilson, 35, in a brief letter to the borough, referred to the end of his employment as "retirement," despite his age.
Wilson was making $40,000 in salary plus benefits. Annual costs of $6,400 for health/hospitalization, $500 for dental and $200 for life insurance are listed as police department benefits in the budget. Wilson was the only full-time officer, so it's assumed those costs are related to his coverage only.
Appointed chief in mid-2008, a five-year contract that started in 2009 was set to expire at the end of this year.
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, disputes the borough's position regarding the settlement.
"If the agency's position were accurate, nothing discussed during executive session would be public and that's clearly not appropriate," she said. "Salaries, for example, the most public of public records, are routinely discussed during personnel executive sessions, but they are public records nonetheless."
The borough had cited subsection 21 of the Right-to-Know Law, in which it says exceptions apply to "all draft minutes for any agency until the next regularly scheduled meeting, when the minutes can be approved. A second example comes for any minutes or records of discussion conducted during an executive session."
Melewsky believes the term "records of discussion" applies to audio, video or verbatim transcripts recorded during the session, not the outcome itself.
Cheryll Hornberger, of Kulpmont, sued Wilson and borough officials after her arrest Jan. 25, 2011 regarding a parking citation.
She said that as Wilson began to exit his police vehicle to issue the ticket, Hornberger was entering her car. She alleged that Wilson began pounding on the driver's side front window when she tried to drive away. She said she stopped and, when Wilson tried to throw the ticket into her vehicle, his hand and the ticket hit the window and the ticket fell.
Wilson opened the door and pulled Hornberger out, her suit said, and charged her for littering because of the ticket. The suit alleges Wilson, before handcuffing Hornberger, said he needed to check her for weapons, and that he grabbed her breast and pulled up her shirt, exposing her breasts to "six to 12 bystanders" and those driving by.
She was shackled to a bench at the police station and verbally harassed, her suit said. It cited further instances of harassment during forthcoming civil and criminal proceedings.
Hornberger alleged that before they hired Wilson, the mayor and borough council either knew or should have known he had been fired from a state police job for sexual harassment and was fired as a Northumberland County dispatcher for impersonating a police officer. Wilson's employment history was also a topic during the criminal proceeding involving Hornberger.
The suit was settled out of court in November for an undisclosed amount, and the parking and littering citations against Hornberger were dismissed.
Mum on settlement
The News-Item filed a request for any documents related to the settlement, but that request was denied as well.
"The documents you are seeking were an agreement which was approved by the federal judge in charge of the case," Kulpmont's response reads. "The borough was represented by the borough's insurance carrier and the documentation was contractually sealed by agreement of the parties and approved by the court."
Attorney Timothy A.B. Reitz, of Muncy, who represented Hornberger in the civil case, said that stipulation could be waived if both parties - Hornberger and the insurance company - agreed to it.
"We can't talk about it, due to the stipulation," Reitz said Thursday. He added, however, that he believe his client would be in favor of releasing the information, and that he would make contact with the insurance company.
Melewsky argues the settlement is a matter of public record because it involves a public agency and public money - even if paid through an insurance provider - and that such details should not have been sealed.